Should You Get an MMJ Card? Weighing Up the Pros and Cons
A significant majority of American states now have fully functional medical marijuana programs. For anyone seeking an alternative method of managing the symptoms of certain medical conditions, getting their MMJ card seems like a no-brainer.
This is even the case in states that have legalized recreational cannabis. After all, cardholders in these locations enjoy benefits such as lower taxes, higher possession limits, and more potent products.
Yet, not everyone considers the downsides of getting a medical marijuana card. They see the positives, get their MMJ card and feel quite happy about their decision. They only later realize that they no longer have certain rights or employment opportunities. In reality, applying for medical marijuana is a far more consequential commitment than they realize.
This guide investigates the pros and cons of getting a medical marijuana card. Hopefully, the information contained within helps you make the right decision for your unique circumstances.
What is a Medical Marijuana Card?
An MMJ card is a state-issued ID card that entitles you to legally buy, possess, and use medical marijuana in your state. Depending on where you live, the card might also enable you to cultivate medical cannabis plants in a private residence.
Marijuana remains a federally prohibited substance, but you receive protection from state laws with your medical card. This will remain the case since it is incredibly unlikely that the federal government will ever crackdown on individual states despite veiled threats from at least one former attorney general.
An MMJ card is valid for up to 12 months in most states. Patients must renew their card before it expires to continue receiving its benefits.
Each state’s card will look slightly different, with unique designs and information specific to the program’s laws. However, the front of most physical cards will contain your:
- Full legal name
- Patient ID number
- Date of birth
- Residential address
The card should also outline when it was issued and when it expires. In certain states, you might also find information about whether you can legally grow marijuana plants at home.
On the back of the medical marijuana card, you should see a black magnetic stripe akin to what you’ll find on a debit/credit card. When you visit a licensed medical marijuana dispensary, the staff member swipes this stripe to verify your medical marijuana patient status. Doing so also helps maintain a record of your dispensary visits to ensure you remain within the legal purchasing limits.
In addition, you should spot legal text/warnings on the back of your card. This information reminds you that MMJ agencies have to remain within state laws.
However, several states now issue digital cards via email rather than sending physical cards in the mail.
How Do I Get a Medical Marijuana Card?
Obtaining an MMJ card may vary from one state to the next. In most states, you must get a doctor’s written certification before completing an online application. However, there are a few exceptions. For instance, in New York, you can visit a dispensary right after getting the doctor’s certification because prospective medical marijuana patients no longer need to register with the state program.
However, in a majority of states, the medical marijuana card application process is as follows:
- Begin by ensuring you have a qualifying medical condition and meet the other eligibility criteria in your state
- Finding a licensed doctor and scheduling a consultation; it is possible to do this online
- Chat with the physician about your usage of MMJ in an appointment that shouldn’t last more than 15 minutes
- The doctor reviews your records and tries to determine if marijuana will prove useful for you
- If they believe it will, they provide you with a written recommendation
- You need this documentation when registering with the state’s program and completing the application
- Now, you must wait to see if the state approves you; if it does, it will either send a physical card or a digital one
- At this stage, you’re free to visit a licensed dispensary to pick up your medicine
5 Reasons Why a Medical Marijuana Card Is Beneficial
There’s no question that obtaining a medical marijuana card is massively beneficial to most applicants. Below, we investigate several of these benefits, which range from legal protection to cheaper medical cannabis.
1 – You Receive Access to Legalized Medical Marijuana in States with MMJ Programs
Once you have a medical marijuana card, you can legally buy the substance in your state. That is, as long as you adhere to the medical marijuana program’s rules and regulations. Your card entitles you to buy a certain amount of the substance within a specific period.
For example, in South Dakota, you can buy and possess up to three ounces of marijuana flower as an MMJ patient. However, without the card, possessing any amount of the substance in the state is a misdemeanor offense that could result in a one-year prison sentence. The possession of over two ounces is a felony!
Depending on the state, there’s also a possibility that your medical marijuana card is valid in another location. For instance, Arkansas, Maine, and Oklahoma are among the states with reciprocity agreements. This means you can arrive from another state with a valid MMJ card and buy/possess a certain amount of cannabis according to state laws.
2 – MMJ Cardholders Pay Lower Taxes Than Recreational Users
In states with recreational marijuana, fewer people are applying for medical marijuana cards than before. However, this could prove an expensive mistake if you’re a regular user. Taxes on the cultivation and sales of recreational marijuana vary significantly from one state to the next.
Excise, sales, and cultivation taxes are the main types of taxation on marijuana. However, MMJ cardholders are often exempt from certain taxes. For instance, in Montana, state taxes are 20% for recreational sales but just 4% for MMJ. Meanwhile, medical marijuana cardholders don’t pay Washington state’s 37% excise tax!
Indeed, in Washington state, recreational users pay around 47.1% in taxes on their purchases. Therefore, if you bought $100 worth of marijuana, you would pay $147.10!
3 – Bigger Buying and Possession Limits
Although it isn’t always the case, most states with medical marijuana programs enable cardholders to buy and possess more than recreational users. Also, in certain locations, only medical marijuana patients can cultivate plants at home.
For instance, in Illinois, you can buy up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days with a medical marijuana card. Meanwhile, the maximum amount an adult can buy without the card is one ounce. Furthermore, only Illinois medical marijuana patients can cultivate plants at home (a maximum of five plants).
Then there is the small matter of being permitted to access a greater range of products. In certain states, only medical marijuana cardholders can use specific forms of the plant. These restrictions may also relate to potency. In California, recreational users can buy lotions and tinctures with up to 1,000mg of THC each time, half the limit imposed on medical marijuana users.
While adult-use cannabis is becoming more widely available, many MMJ patients who buy products in recreational and medical marijuana stores continue to claim that the latter provide better quality products.
It is also important to note that recreational marijuana is only available to residents aged 21+. In contrast, you can apply for an MMJ card at any age. If you’re 17 or under in most states, you need the permission of a parent or legal guardian who acts as a caregiver.
4 – HIPAA Protects MMJ Patients
As a medical marijuana patient, you can be sure that your medical records remain private. There’s a common misconception that the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) does not apply to medical marijuana dispensaries since they sell a federally prohibited substance.
In reality, HIPAA DOES apply to the medical marijuana industry. HIPAA compliance is a requirement for any business that dispenses marijuana. Dispensaries need a medical prescription to provide the product, which means they are classified as HIPAA-covered entities. Furthermore, medical cannabis businesses that keep customer records must also meet HIPAA criteria to ensure data privacy.
If you have any doubts, ask the dispensary if it is HIPAA compliant. Unfortunately, not every business has caught up, so it is crucial to use a dispensary that always keeps your data private and protected. It is important to note that HIPAA protection does not apply to recreational users.
5 – Research Shows that MMJ Could Help Manage a Vast Array of Symptoms
Last, but not least, there is a huge tract of research indicating the medical benefits of marijuana. There are now thousands of studies that show the potential therapeutic properties of MMJ. It is used to help manage the symptoms of various conditions, including:
- Chronic pain
- Alzheimer’s disease
- Crohn’s disease
Unfortunately, there remains a lack of clinical research due to marijuana’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance. Nonetheless, millions of people consume the substance, and it has a high success rate, according to users.
Furthermore, there is emerging evidence that marijuana could help in the fight against the opioid epidemic. Data from the CDC found that over 110,000 people died from a drug overdose in a 12-month period ending in October 2022. Research indicates that marijuana could be an alternative treatment for individuals with opioid use disorder (OUD).
Certainly, MMJ has many potential benefits, but the only way to get the full picture is through clinical trials.
5 Downsides Associated with Medical Marijuana Cards
Unfortunately, medical marijuana cards are not the perfect solution. From application difficulties to the loss of certain rights, there are several consequences of getting a medical card that you must consider before proceeding. We explore them below.
1 – Legal Protection Is Limited to State Law
The 1937 Marihuana Tax Act placed a tax on the sale of cannabis and was drafted in such a way as to make the sale, purchase, and possession of the substance federally illegal. Part of the Act was ruled unconstitutional in 1969 in Leary v. United States, as a person looking for the tax stamp would be incriminating themselves.
However, rather than legalizing marijuana, the federal government swiftly implemented a new law. In 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substances Act (CSA). According to the CSA, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance, which means it is classified as a drug with a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.
Even though research suggests that marijuana is less addictive than certain legal substances, and thousands of studies say it has many possible medical uses, it remains federally illegal.
Therefore, the legal protection afforded to medical marijuana users is limited to state law. Consequently, you can’t bring the substance across state lines, even when traveling between two states that permit recreational marijuana. If you’re caught bringing the substance across state lines, you could be charged with drug trafficking, a federal crime. According to the DEA, a first offense could result in a 5-year prison sentence.
Ultimately, even when you have an MMJ card, you must remain within your state’s borders when in possession of marijuana. If you’re traveling to a state with no medical marijuana program or reciprocity with other states, you’re sadly out of luck.
2 – Lengthy Application Process & Renewal
We must be clear that the above isn’t always the case. As we’ve already mentioned, you can visit a dispensary right after receiving the doctor’s written certification in New York. However, in states with relatively new MMJ programs, in particular, the application process can seem long and drawn out.
In general, you’ll need to find a physician and schedule a consultation. Certain states make this very easy by allowing telemedicine. Indeed, if you live in one of these locations, you can use MMJCardOnline to connect with a doctor and enjoy a same-day consultation online.
However, finding a cannabis-friendly physician in other states isn’t always easy. Then you have to prove that you’re eligible for MMJ. Even when you get the doctor’s written recommendation, there’s the small matter of applying to the state’s medical marijuana program.
When you have the MMJ card, certain state programs ensure it is a frustrating and expensive process to retain it. If you’re lucky, you’ll live in a state with a straightforward renewal process. Alas, some states force patients to jump through needless hoops.
Take Florida as an example. After paying the $75 application fee and perhaps $200+ for the consultation, you will hopefully receive your medical marijuana card, which is valid for a year. Seems straightforward, right? Yet, in the Sunshine State, you must consult a doctor every 210 days, a process that costs another $200+. Add in the cost of the marijuana itself, and owning an MMJ card can prove expensive.
3 – Continuing Social Stigma
It was a campaign of fear, misinformation, and racism that resulted in the national prohibition of marijuana in 1937. Those involved in this process used America’s international influence to spread the ban worldwide.
While it is true that the Reefer Madness propaganda has died down, it is incorrect to assume that the social stigma surrounding marijuana has vanished. For one thing, a surprising number of anti-marijuana politicians seem determined to keep the misinformation flowing. Some even speak about the ‘Gateway Theory,’ a deeply flawed argument over marijuana’s propensity to act as a ‘gateway’ to harder drugs like heroin.
Even though the theory was debunked decades ago, it is occasionally dragged into the spotlight. Published works such as Alex Berenson’s Tell Your Children: The Truth About Marijuana, Mental Illness and Violence don’t help matters. Medical professionals have criticized the tome for making inaccurate claims. Nonetheless, it is championed by anti-marijuana campaigners.
None of this is going unnoticed by MMJ cardholders. A study published in 2022 looked into the perceived social stigma of MMJ patients. It found that over 80% of medical marijuana users who completed a questionnaire said they felt comfortable telling family, friends, and medical professionals about their MMJ treatment.
However, fewer than 40% of the users believed healthcare professionals approved of their use of medical marijuana. Moreover, fewer than one-third felt that society in general approved. This suggests that, despite the growing legality of medical marijuana, certain stigmas remain.
4 – Risk of Cannabis Use Disorder and Adverse Effects
In his book, Berenson seems to take the Reefer Madness position. That is, marijuana usage leads to an increase in assaults, murders, and mental illnesses. One of his main positions in the book is that marijuana causes people to become more psychotic and schizophrenic. Other anti-marijuana campaigners claim that the drug is highly addictive.
Certainly, Berenson’s position on marijuana causing schizophrenia has next to no evidence. It is also true that fears over the substance’s addictive nature are overblown. However, it is equally inaccurate to claim that marijuana isn’t addictive at all. According to NIDA, between 9% and 30% of people who use the substance will develop Cannabis Use Disorder (CUD). The higher estimate is almost certainly inaccurate, with the true percentage probably closer to the lower figure.
Even if this is the case, perhaps 1-in-9 to 1-in-11 people who use marijuana will develop a CUD. Such individuals will use marijuana more often than is required and will have a dependence on the substance. If they try to stop using it, they will endure withdrawal symptoms such as:
- Loss of motivation
- Depressed mood
Individuals who begin using marijuana in adolescence are at the highest risk for the disorder. This is something that parents who are considering getting a medical marijuana card for their children must consider.
It is also worth noting that medical marijuana can result in certain adverse effects, including:
- Dry mouth and dry eyes
- Increased heart rate
- Lightheadedness and dizziness
Overall, it is up to each individual to decide if the benefits of medical marijuana outweigh the risks.
5 – You Lose Certain Rights & Employment Opportunities
Finally, as an MMJ cardholder, you must give up certain rights in the United States. Technically speaking, you don’t have to because your status as a medical marijuana patient should be protected. However, you could lose your job if you use MMJ and fail a drug test. In certain circumstances, it could spell the end of your career. Here are a few things to consider before proceeding with your medical marijuana card application.
You Can’t Own a Firearm or Hold a CDL
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (AFT) clearly states that you can’t own a firearm or ammunition if you use or depend on a controlled substance. Remember, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance as per the CSA. Furthermore, licensed weapons dealers must not knowingly sell firearms or ammunition to MMJ patients. Therefore, owning a medical marijuana card means giving up your Second Amendment right.
Also, if you have a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL), you aren’t allowed to have an MMJ card. If you use medical marijuana and fail a drug test, you will almost certainly lose your job. Finding a new one will prove incredibly difficult, also.
You Can’t Work in Certain Industries
A wide range of jobs is out of your reach when you become a medical marijuana patient. These may include:
- Healthcare roles such as doctors, nurses, and physician assistants
- Government roles such as positions in the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Defense
- Jobs in the transportation industry, such as pilot, air traffic controller, or any TSA role
- Law enforcement positions ranging from state and municipal roles to the FBI and DEA
You Can’t Grow Marijuana if You Live in Government Housing
Estimates vary, but approximately 1.2 million households are believed to live in public housing units. Overall, almost 3% of Americans benefit from Section 8 and other forms of housing assistance via the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
If you live in federally-subsidized public housing, you can’t use, possess, or grow cannabis in your home. If caught doing so, you could be denied housing or evicted.
Final Thoughts on the Good and Bad of Having a Medical Marijuana Card
Now that you know the upsides and downsides of getting a medical marijuana card, you must decide if it is the right option for you AND your family. In essence, you must weigh the positives and the negatives to see if one outweighs the other. The answer is usually clear-cut for individuals living with a debilitating medical condition. However, this is not the case for everyone.
Ultimately, it is important to ask yourself a few questions before proceeding with a medical marijuana application. These include, but are not limited to:
- Is Medical Marijuana Right for You? – Not everyone responds to medical marijuana, and you may not like the adverse effects. There are various consumption options, but your state might not allow some. If MMJ doesn’t suit your lifestyle, or it could cause problems at home or in your workplace, you may not wish to proceed.
- What Are Your State’s Rules Surrounding Medical Marijuana? – If your state allows MMJ but not adult-use marijuana, you have no other option but to apply for medical marijuana. However, if your state allows recreational cannabis, investigate the restrictions. Are the purchasing and possession limits high enough to give you what you need? Does the state allow you to grow marijuana plants? If the MMJ program offers far higher limits, you may decide it is worth getting your card.
- Are You Willing to Give Up Certain Rights? – This is a big decision for most people. You’re taking a major risk if you work in an industry that doesn’t allow MMJ and performs regular drug testing. Also, if you own a firearm, are you prepared to give it up? It becomes a matter of whether an MMJ card is more important than specific rights.
By now, you will hopefully have a strong idea of whether a medical marijuana card is the right option for you. If you decide it is, MMJCardOnline can make the process smooth and simple. We connect you with our high-quality providers, who help you book a consultation with a cannabis-friendly physician. Once you have the doctor’s approval, you can proceed with your state’s application process.